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Subject: Re: 1985 Albert Innaurat's biographcL essay
From: Donald Levine <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Donald Levine <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 28 Sep 2017 20:30:27 -0700

text/plain (204 lines)

Charles, thank you for posting this remarkable vignette from Albert.


On Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 9:12 AM, Charles Mintzer <[log in to unmask]>

> By ALBERT INNAURATO; Albert Innaurato's plays include ''The
> Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie'' and ''Gemini.''
> Published: November 24, 1985
>  <
> operatic-love-affair.html?pagewanted=print>
>  <
> operatic-love-affair.html?pagewanted=all>
> By the time I was 16, I had written my third opera. It was my own
> adaptation of ''Anna Karenina.'' I still remember the long scene where
> Anna, having been hit by a train but still able to sing, is discovered by
> Vronsky, and dying, confides in his arms that she is carrying his child. My
> composition class received this with undisguised hilarity and contempt. I
> was very upset, since I was proud of my ability to generate long, sweetly
> nostalgic themes in B flat from Anna's fragmented groanings in G minor.
> The teacher, seeing me bite back tears, took me aside. ''You know,'' he
> said, ''I don't think you have much future as a composer, you have too good
> a memory. But your librettos are always a lot of fun. I think you should
> write plays.''
> Well, the seed was planted and eventually I did write plays. But they were
> really operas. I knew next to nothing about the spoken theater. The
> theater, for me, was the opera house. In fact, life was the opera house.
> Very early on I became adept at getting in. When young, my main tactic was
> to stand in a prominent place outside the opera house and look pathetic.
> Since I was a very chubby Italian boy with big black eyes, this always
> worked.
> It also worked the first time I ran away from home, one Saturday morning
> in the depth of winter. I had several weeks' allowance in my pocket, not
> for train fare or ticket, but for the grand and great records shops which,
> rumor had it, abounded in the metropolis. I got on the train in
> Philadelphia (it wasn't going to New York in my mind, but to opera) and
> wept, claiming to have lost my ticket. Then, on arrival at the old Met, I
> stood weeping with the standee line until someone took pity and gave me a
> cheap ticket for ''Andrea Chenier.''
> I was utterly uncritical about what I saw. In those days, in Philadelphia,
> the scenery would often wave when a well-endowed singer took a deep breath.
> It didn't matter to me; that was life. That was the only world worth living
> in. A world where fat people were young and beautiful forever. A world
> where the darkest deeds and most horrible tragedies were celebrated in the
> most glorious music and the victims emerged from endless death throes into
> equally endless ovations. The spoken theater seemed impossibly drab after
> that. ''When are they going to start singing?'' I whispered to an aunt who
> had taken me to see the Old Vic on tour in ''Romeo and Juliet.'' I
> interpreted her deep sigh as her sharing my disappointment that they
> probably wouldn't.
> I based all my early plays on operatic procedures. But I wanted to achieve
> the impossible. I might have been held spellbound as Tosca finds the knife,
> for example, but it wasn't only plot and character, it was that wonderful
> theme in F-sharp minor that deepened the moment. In plays I found, we have
> only words and action, in life, only confusion, but in opera . . . !
> My interest in the subject started one Saturday afternoon when I was 7 or
> so: An opera was playing on the radio and I was lying around. It was
> ''Rigoletto,'' and it seemed to me I knew all the tunes; that I'd heard
> them before; that I even knew the story, sort of.
> In the days that followed I wouldn't rest until somehow I had procured a
> libretto - one of those old-fashioned ones with the major arias written out
> - and I had contrived to reproduce these arias at the piano. And the next
> Saturday I was at the radio listening to another opera. And the Saturday
> following that one I was there again. No relative or family friend with a
> few opera records was safe from my opportunings. I entered the big library
> and read librettos, and puzzled through scores. I'd become an opera addict.
> By the time I was 13 I was setting out to compose my own operas. There was
> something a little terrifying about my ambition - my talent was less in
> evidence. But my thirst for musical knowledge, my rapacity for all things
> operatic, got me into advanced composition classes.
> No one was more industrious than I. I'd write my own librettos, then,
> laboriously, I'd draw up lietmotifs and thematic procedures, for I was a
> snob and all my work had to be through composed. My first opera, finished
> when I was around 14, was ''The Vampires.'' It was a fable about love,
> longing (the vampire was the eternal outcast) and espionage intrigue - the
> Christine Keeler affair had been uncovered in Britain and several details
> about that notorious call girl and her all-too-intimate relationship with
> government officials found their way into my plot.
> I even pubesced at the opera. This was during ''Die Walkure'' in
> Philadelphia. Regine Crespin was Sieglinde, and when she held Nothung,
> Siegmund's shattered sword, aloft in Act Three and filled the house with
> gleaming tone at ''O hehrstes Wunder,'' I understood several things about
> life which theretofore had been mysterious to me. Those 29 measures from
> Wagner through Crespin, her abandon, her mixture of voluptuous yielding and
> steely determination -all in terms of sound - gave me my own notion of
> womanhood (and a very problematic notion it was to prove).
> I am very aware of all the elements in opera but I love voices, and I
> believe the human voice is the most perfect instrument, the most completely
> expressive sign of humanity. Orpheus sings to tame the beasts and quiet the
> demons; how much less appropriate had he rolled out a grand piano and tried
> to conduct them with a baton.
> In my opinion the singer is the soul of opera. It doesn't matter whether
> the singer can ''act'' in the limited mimetic style sanctified by
> television and the movie close-up. The ''acting'' must be done first in the
> voice. Singing is breathing. Good singing is directing that breath with
> thought, consciousness and feeling. In the great voice can be heard all the
> strivings, the joys, the defeats, the longings of being alive on this
> earth. And because breath, like life, runs out, in the great voice we can
> hear death, too.
> Who or what are the greatest singers? Are they tenors or sopranos? Have
> they good coloratura? Maybe. But as I hear them the greatest singers are
> those who are utterly singular, who in fact invent their own voices. This
> is why great singers tend to be unique and why great singing transcends
> vocal athletics. Some great singers have had flawed instruments or
> insufficient techniques. Some great singers have bad luck. Callas was such
> a great singer in our own time. Whoever sounded like that? Whoever dared
> sound like that? Where did she come up with that voice? She did not
> discover it singing at parties or in the shower or (if indeed it was she)
> singing ''Un Bel Di'' for Major Bowes. Was she a mezzo with a remarkable
> upward extension, a spinto with same, a dramatic soprano with extraordinary
> flexibility, a coloratura with (in her prime) a remarkable richness and
> size to her tone and an astonishing downward extension? She was all those
> things. But basically she was self-invented. Caruso was such a singer. He
> was influenced, of course, but he transformed those influences into an
> utterly unique style and manner. None of his predecessors sounds the least
> like him or, as far as we know, sang in the same way - not Marconi, Tamagno
> or De Reske. No one much believed in the young Caruso. He seemed a
> baritonal lyric tenor short on top and technically unreliable. His early
> years were full of crises.
> Like Callas he gambled and struggled to maintain a technical equilibrium.
> It is a moot point if he was more successful than she, for he too had a
> fairly short time, disappointed audiences during the final years of his
> career, and died early. Chaliapin was such a singer; so was Lotte Lehmann.
> Nor were any of these people ''just'' singers. They leaped beyond
> professional accomplishment to become clergy of the opera temple. When, in
> listening to Chaliapin, we realize there is next to no difference between
> his speaking or declaiming and his singing voice, we realize that after a
> time he became music, that singing was as organic for him as breathing or
> thinking. I'd say the same about Lehmann and Callas and Caruso. Those who
> saw Giuseppe Taddei sing Falstaff this fall at the Met saw a similarly
> organic achievement. Who could say where the acting left off to become
> singing or where that beautiful diction became music? Taddei was not
> performing, he was living. And I am positive one can hear this in the
> Caruso and Chaliapin and Callas records - however imperfect some of them
> are. They are not singing or acting they are living.
> I still have my scores and records and tapes. And I still trudge wherever
> I can to hear interesting new voices and pieces. I've spent a long time
> pining away, wishing somehow that I had been able to make a career in
> music. God knows I tried hard enough. But then again, perhaps I was lucky.
> I remember the exclamation of a very famous pianist/teacher with whom I
> once studied. I was hopeless but avid, so he pitied me. Once he threw all
> the music out the window into the snow, screaming in his heavy accent, ''Go
> out there in the mud and wallow, you . . . you . . . elephant!'' But this
> one day he had returned weary and discouraged from a tour. I feared the
> worst, because I had a memory lapse in Chopin's Fantasy Impromptu. I sat
> aquiver, expecting all hell to break loose. Instead there was a deep groan
> and then a sweet smile. ''Thank God you not talented, Innaurato,'' he said.
> ''That way you will die loving music.''
> **********************************************
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